The classic problem with crab cakes is that they fall apart without enough bread crumbs, but they taste bland with too many. Which is why we found the optimal ratio to ensure your crab cakes will have great crab flavor without falling apart.
For inspiration in developing this recipe, we reflected on some of the best Baltimore crab cakes we’ve ever eaten—at Shultz’s Crab House, Faidley Seafood, and Koco’s Pub. Our recipe seeks to replicate the best features of these Baltimore classics: the maximum amount of crab meat, minimal binder to hold it all together, and a luscious moist interior.
It’s imperative to use the highest quality crab meat you can get your hands on. Without good crab meat, there’s basically no point in making crab cakes. Crab meat from Chesapeake blue crabs is traditional, but not essential. Just make sure you’re sourcing blue crab meat from a purveyor you trust.
There’s an age-old debate about whether to use jumbo lump or backfin meat for crab cakes. Jumbo lump is more expensive, but has a firmer, meatier texture. Backfin is known for its lacey texture and sweet flavor. After testing both, we preferred the jumbo lump, because it delivered a cleaner crab flavor. However, either option works in this recipe.
For bread crumbs, we decided to use panko, a Japanese variety of flaky breadcrumbs. While crushed saltines are a popular option in Baltimore, we love panko because its flavor is mild, and it does an excellent job of binding the crab.
When it comes to flavoring, we kept it simple: mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, Old Bay (a seasoning mix that includes celery salt, black pepper, and paprika), and lemon juice. We considered adding other flavor elements like hot sauce or worcestershire but, in the end, we wanted to highlight the crab flavor, not overpower it, so we held back on those extra condiments. For the same reason, we decided to skip fresh herbs. We considered parsley, tarragon, chives, and scallions—and a lot of recipes go this route but for us, the best crab cake comes with restraint.
The final decision: to fry or bake? For the crispiest crust and most succulent interior, frying is the way to go. It’s a bit of extra work to flip the crab cakes on the stovetop, but the reward is well worth it.
- Prep time 1 hour 10 minutes
- Cook time 20 minutes
- Makes 8 large crab cakes
jumbo lump crab meat
freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons
Canola oil, for frying (or any neutral high-heat oil)
Lemon slices, for garnish
- Transfer the crab meat to a large bowl and pick through it to make sure there are no pieces of shell.
- Add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, Old Bay, and Dijon. Gently stir to combine. Add the panko and gently stir again. Some of the larger pieces of crab meat will inevitably shred—that's okay; just try to keep as many intact as you can. Cover and refrigerate the mixture for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight, in the fridge.
- When you’re ready to fry, use your hands to divide the crab mixture into 8 round patties (firmly packed, about 2 ½ inches in diameter). Set a medium skillet over medium heat, and add enough canola oil to reach a ¼-inch depth. When the oil is between 350°F and 375°F, you can begin to fry the crab cakes. (If you don’t have a thermometer, you can sacrifice a small piece of a crab cake and add it to the oil in order to see how hot your oil is.)
- Fry the crab cakes in batches to avoid crowding the skillet. Add the first round to the pan and cook for 3 to 4 minutes per side, until the crust is golden brown. Try to jostle the crab cakes as little as possible (they’re delicate). To flip as carefully as possible, I like using a fish spatula in one hand and a slotted metal spoon in the other. When the crab cakes are done, remove them to a rimmed baking pan lined with paper towels or a wire rack if you’d prefer not to use paper towels.
- Repeat with the remaining crab cakes. When they’re all out of the pan, serve right away with lemon wedges.